Northern Arizona (0-0) at Arizona (1-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 12th, 9:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Arizona Stadium (57,400) -- Tucson, Arizona. Television: Local (tape delay). Home Record: NAU 0-0, Arizona 1-0. Away Record: NAU 0-0, Arizona 0-0. Neutral Record: NAU 0-0, Arizona 0-0. Conference Record: NAU 0-0, Arizona 0-0. Series Record: Arizona leads, 9-1.
GAME NOTES: Coming off their ninth straight season-opening win, the Arizona Wildcats go in search of a 2-0 start when they play host to the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
NAU is playing its first game of the campaign, and the FCS school from the Big Sky Conference will also face another FBS team this season, visiting Ole Miss on November 7th. The Lumberjacks went 6-5 in each of the past three seasons, and the hope is that there will be an upswing for the team after it finished as the FCS's top defense against the run and in sacks last season. The Jacks are coached by Jerome Souers, the all-time winningest coach in school history (61-64), and his teams have gone 8-3 in his previous 11 season openers.
As for Arizona, it claimed a 19-6 win over visiting Central Michigan last Saturday, continuing the momentum the team started last year when it won eight games and went bowling for the first time in a decade. UA won its final two games of the 2008 season, meaning a win in this clash would give the team its first four-game win streak since 2000. Following this bout, the 'Cats won't play another home game until Pac-10 foe Stanford comes calling on October 17th.
Arizona owns a commanding 9-1 advantage in the all-time series between these two teams, with the last meeting taking place in Tucson in 2007. In that clash, the Wildcats prevailed in a 45-24 final. The Jacks' lone victory in the series was a 7-6 decision in Phoenix back in 1932.
Northern Arizona averaged nearly 400 yards and 29 points per game last season. The Lumberjacks rushed for almost 160 ypg (third-best in the Big Sky), while utilizing the pass for another 239 ypg (28th nationally). NAU's starter at QB this fall is junior Michael Herrick, who appeared in 10 games in '08 and completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,043 yards with three TDs and six INTs. The Jacks' receiving corps boasts a pair of seniors (Conrad Meadows and Ed Berry) and a junior (Davieun Curry-Chapman) among the starters, and when you add senior TE Shaun Fitzpatrick to the mix, this is an experienced group. Berry led all NAU pass catchers last season with 45 grabs for 641 yards. He did not reach the end zone, but Meadows did -- a team-best four times. When coach Souers decides to keep the ball on the ground, expect a healthy Alex Henderson to get the call. Henderson, who averaged 63.5 ypg last season in just six games, has amassed more than 2,200 rushing yards in his career.
As mentioned in the opening, NAU led the FCS and ranked second in Division I overall in rushing defense last season with a mere 59.8 ypg allowed. The Lumberjacks held four opponents to negative yards rushing and a fifth to just 21 yards. Foes averaged a paltry 2.1 ypc and a total of 99 plays resulted in either zero yards or negative yardage. The strength of this year's NAU defense could be in the secondary, where guys like Matt Steinbach, Brian Hunter, Taelor Worrell, Nick Ragland-Johnsen, Davion Dumas, Conrad White and Matt Estrada have all shown the ability to make plays. Up front, the three starters average just 240 pounds so it will be up to the linebackers to lend support at the point of attack, something the senior-laden bunch (Zac McNally, Anthony Llanos and Stevon Thomas) is more than capable of doing.
In last week's opener against Central Michigan, Arizona amassed 448 yards of total offense, 246 of which came on the ground, as Nic Grigsby rushed for 118 yards and a TD. Grigsby is one rushing score shy of cracking the top-10 at UA in that category, and he needs just 25 yards to reach 2,000 for his career. Matt Scott got the starting nod at QB for the Wildcats against CMU, and he was effective in hitting 19-of-30 passes for 202 yards and an INT. He also used his legs to make plays, accounting for 83 yards on nine carries. Scott has done plenty of running in his career, and has been productive in averaging 8.5 ypc. The 'Cats played last week without All-America TE Rob Gronkowski, out with a back injury, and he is listed as doubtful for this game. Kicker Alex Zendejas Jr. matched a school record by booting four FGs in the opener.
The Wildcats were ferocious on defense last week, limiting Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour to just 108 passing yards -- his lowest total in 40 career games. The Chippewas managed just 11 first downs compared to 24 for the 'Cats, and they churned out a mere 74 yards rushing while holding the ball for only 22 minutes. Arizona LB Vuna Tuiahalamaka led the team with 10 tackles and also picked off a pass in his first career start. Arizona has been particularly tough on defense over the last season and a half, holding four opponents under 200 total yards, a stat made all the more impressive when you consider the team had accomplished that feat just six times in the previous 12 seasons.
Northern Arizona may make some noise in the Big Sky this year, but the Lumberjacks are likely to come up small in this matchup against the Wildcats. Expect Arizona to have its way on both sides of the ball, giving the team a solid 2-0 start as it looks ahead to next week's road clash with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 34, Northern Arizona 10
09/09 12:11:02 ET